Category Archives: Political cases

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Monday’s Quick Clicks…

Restrictive discovery laws still foster injustice

Regressive discovery laws in New York and elsewhere render innocent defendants guilty in the court of opinion even when the charges are dropped, says Debora Silberman, a public defender who represented one of the five teenagers falsely accused in a highly publicized Brownsville, N.Y., rape case. If the discrepancies in the accusations had been disclosed earlier, she says here, the defendants’ reputations would not have been left in a shambles.

 

 

Wednesday’s Quick Clicks…

Magazine tells how prosecutors became ‘kings of the courtoom’

“Most prosecutors are hard-working, honest and modestly paid,” The Economist says. “But they have accumulated so much power that abuse is inevitable.” The magazine explains how prosecutors became “the kings of the courtroom,” and how this contributes to wrongful convictions, here.

Bloodsworth film gets funding boost, Raffaele Sollecito doesn’t

Producers of a movie about Kirk Bloodsworth, the first person freed from death row by DNA, successfully launched a fund-raising effort for post-production funding today. The producers of “Bloodsworth – An Innocent Man,” previously raised over $25,000 from 331 backers for filming in 2011, and current crowd-funding effort looks like it will be equally successful. You can read about the campaign here.

Sadly, not all possibly innocent people caught up in the sometimes crazy criminal-justice world are having the same kind of luck. As Luca Cheli explains here, Raffaele Sollecito, Amanda Knox’s co-defendant in the controversial Italian murder case concerning the murder of Briton Meredith Kercher, is one of them. Cheli reports that Sollecito’s account on the crowd-funding site GoFundMe has suddenly been closed. Sollecito had successfully raised defense funds on the site before, and now his supporters around the world are being denied the opportunity to help him again. Sollecito is having problems setting up an account on other crowd-funding sites, and his chance of presenting a robust defense is now in jeopardy.

Cheli attributes Sollecito’s fund-raising woes to the often-vociferous haters of Knox and Sollecito. But the issue is bigger than that.

”This is a threat going well beyond the context of a specific murder case: it is certainly a threat to anyone working against any wrongful conviction, but it is also a potential threat to any advocate of whatever cause,” Cheli writes.

“Today it is Knox and Sollecito, who or what will it be tomorrow?”

98-year-old woman seeks to overturn 1950 spying conviction

Hysteria often breeds wrongful convictions. The anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s McCarthy era undoubtedly led to some miscarriages of justice, and Miriam Moskowitz says her espionage conviction was one of them. Now 98, Moskowitz says she wants to clear her name while she still has time, and has asked a federal judge to throw out her 1950 conviction. You can read about the case here.

Study shows how ‘mob journalism’ helps convict the innocent

“The media has won deserved credit for its role in exposing wrongful convictions,” The Crime Report says. “But there are many examples of compliant coverage of prosecutors and law enforcement authorities who rush to convict the innocent on flimsy or phony evidence.”

To prove its point, the web site has published a study by crime journalist David J. Krajicek that focuses on three examples — the 1949 case of Florida’s “Groveland Four”; the conviction of Kirk Bloodsworth in the 1985 rape and murder of a 9-year-old girl near Baltimore; and the conviction of Walter McMillian for the 1986 murder of a clerk in Monroeville, Ala.

All three cases are good examples of how the news media frequently follow — and sometimes lead — police and prosecutors down the rabbit hole of bias and tunnel vision. You can read the excellent study here.

Ruling marks historic week in Brooklyn D.A.’s Office: Discredited detective’s files to be reviewed by judge

As reported (here) in the New York Daily News, New York Supreme Court Justice Desmond Green yesterday denied a motion by the Brooklyn District Attorney to suppress a subpoena, submitted by lawyers for inmate Shabaka Shakur, to obtain the files of former police Detective Louis Scarcella. The retired detective is implicated in possible tampering in nearly 40 cases that may have resulted in wrongful convictions. In addition to the denied motion, the judge ordered the Brooklyn D.A. to provide the files of all the identified cases, two at a time, to the judge himself for review.

District Attorney Charles “Joe” Hynes had called for the review of Scarcella’s cases, after his Convictions Integrity Unit had cleared the conviction of David Ranta. Mr. Ranta had spent 23 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Continue reading

Miami ‘injustice system’ gets international attention

The release this week of Amanda Knox’s book, Waiting to be Heard, and her hour-long interview on ABC last night puts the focus on the growing problem of citizens of one country being convicted in the unfamiliar court system of another country.

Knox has gained strong sympathy in her native United States. But feelings toward her in Italy, where her murder conviction occurred before being overturned, and in Great Britain, where murdered roommate Meredith Kercher was from, are less favorable.

The shoe is on the other foot in the murder conviction in the United States of a British citizen of Indian descent, Kris Maharaj, who grew up in Trinidad and made a fortune in Britain before moving to Florida. Maharaj has gained lots of support and media exposure in Britain, but relatively little in the U.S.

Maharaj got a rude introduction to the American justice system when two business rivals were killed in a Miami hotel room in 1986 and he was convicted of their murders and sentenced to death. Maharaj’s case had many sordid aspects, including a judge who was arrested mid-trial on bribery charges, a lackadaisical attorney (who is now a judge), police and prosecutors who withheld evidence, Caribbean con-artists and Columbian cocaine dealers.

Clive Stafford Smith bares these facts in his compelling book, The Injustice System: A Murder in Miami and a Trial Gone Wrong, which was previously published in Britain as Injustice.

Stafford Smith has an interesting perspective. The British citizen attended the University of North Carolina and graduated from Columbia Law School. He then spent two decades representing death-row clients in the United States before returning to Britain, where he is founder and director of Reprieve, a nonprofit legal defense firm. One of his American clients was Maharaj. In his book, Stafford Smith recounts how he developed convincing evidence that the murders for which Maharaj was sentenced to death were really committed by a Columbian hit man to exact revenge for the victims’ theft of a drug cartel’s profits.

Stafford Smith tells how he got Maharaj’s death sentence overturned with some regret. Why? Because, Stafford Smith says, American courts are far less likely to consider evidence of innocence if the defendant isn’t on death row. As a result, Maharaj, now in his 70s, languishes in prison with little chance of having the evidence Stafford Smith has developed ever considered. You can read more about the case here and here.

Amanda Knox Interview on ABC Tonight in U.S at 10pm EST….

Details here.  Prior coverage of case here, here, here, and here.  Post about her new book here.

2012 Exonerations involving Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office

Nancy Petro recently blogged here about the exoneration of Jabbar Collins, who is now bringing a civil suit against the City of Brooklyn and individual prosecutorial staff for misconduct in his case.

The year of 2012 saw the discovery of additional cases of misconduct involving same district attorney’s office, leading to the exoneration of Ronald Bozeman, Lawrence Williams, and Darrell Dula in three different criminal cases.

All three spent 10 months to 2 years in jail due to governmental misconduct before being released for crimes they did not commit. Read more about them here, here, and here.

Federal Judge Unsettled by D.A.’s Apparent Indifference in Wrongful Conviction

According to The Wall Street Journal (here), Federal Court Judge Frederic Block expressed frustration with the apparent indifference Brooklyn (NY) District Attorney Charles Hynes has shown in response to the “aberrational behavior” of one of his top prosecutors in a case that led to the wrongful conviction of Jabbar Collins in the 1994 murder of Rabbi Abraham Pollack.

Collins, a 10th grade drop-out with high school equivalency and some college, proclaimed his innocence and dedicated himself in prison to utilizing state and federal records laws to obtain information about his case. He bumped into Continue reading

Jason Puracal Wins Appeal, To Be Released….

Previous coverage of case here, here and here….

From AP:

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – A U.S. citizen jailed for nearly two years on money-laundering and drug charges in Nicaragua will be freed after a court unanimously upheld his appeal, his lawyer said Wednesday.

Attorney Fabbrith Gomez said the appeals court vacated the charges against Jason Puracal, 35, of Tacoma,  and ordered him released immediately.

“We are happy, everyone that worked for this is happy,” he said.

Gomez said it could be a matter of hours or days before the University of Washington graduate, who worked as a real estate agent in Nicaragua, is released from the prison right outside Managua, the capital.

The court was supposed to have announced its ruling by Sept. 4, according to Nicaraguan law, but Gomez said he wasn’t until Wednesday.

Details of the decision to free Puracal were not immediately available. There was no immediate confirmation from court officials.

Gomez had argued to the appeals court that Puracal’s home sales were legitimate business deals and were not related in any way to drug traffickers.

Puracal made the Pacific coast beach town of San Juan del Sur his home after a two-year stint in Nicaragua with the Peace Corps. He married a Nicaraguan woman and they had a son.

In late 2010, masked policeman raided his real estate office and took him to Nicaragua’s maximum security prison. Prosecutors charged that Puracal was using his business as a front for money laundering in a region used to transport cocaine from Colombia to the United States.

He was convicted in August 2011 of all charges and later sentenced to 22 years in prison.

Puracal’s family and friends and human rights groups maintained the charges were false. U.S. lawmakers supported Puracal by sending letters to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.

 

Jason Puracal Supporters Hold Vigils; Deliver Petition to Nicaraguan Embassy…

 

From newssource:

 

It’s been exactly one year since a Tacoma man was sentenced to 22 years in prison for drug trafficking and money laundering in Nicaragua.

Jason Puracal’s family and hundreds of supporters have stood by him, claiming he was wrongfully convicted without evidence.

On Wednesday, the effort to free Puracal will strengthen with an event in Los Angeles and one in Seattle.

Supporters with Change.org plan to deliver a petition to the Nicaraguan embassy in L.A., demanding Puracal’s release. Organizers claim to have gathered more than 100,000 signatures.

At the University of Washington, supporters and Jason’s family will gather at Red Square at 8:00 p.m. for a candlelight vigil.

Jason’s sister, Janis, recently returned from Nicaragua, where an appeals court heard Jason’s case last week. The family is now awaiting a judge’s decision.

“I know there’s no evidence against Jason,” Janis said. “I want to say I’m confident he’s coming home, [but] it’s hard for me to put a lot of stock in that system after two years of fighting it.”

The family maintains there was never any evidence linking Jason to drugs, money or any of the other 10 defendants convicted of the crimes.

Jason’s health has improved in prison, but he continues to struggle with depression. According to Janis, he was recently planed on suicide watch.

Sports world’s justice system often unfair to the accused

As hard as the presumption of guilt can be to overcome in the world’s court systems, it apparently is even harder in the international anti-doping bureaucracy headed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, where even high-profile athletes like Lance Armstrong don’t stand a chance.

As Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post notes:

“Anyone who thinks an athlete has a fair shot in front of CAS should review the Alberto Contador case. Contador was found to have a minuscule, insignificant amount of clenbuterol in his urine during the 2010 Tour de France. After hearing 4,000 pages of testimony and debate, CAS acknowledged that the substance was too small to have been performance-enhancing and that its ingestion was almost certainly unintentional.

Therefore he was guilty. He received a two-year ban.”

Even worse, Jenkins said, one year of that ban was exacted because the prime minister of Spain dared to defend Contador’s innocence. You can read Jenkins’ full commentary here.

Decision from Nicaraguan Court on Jason Puracal Could Come in Next 10 Days….

From Komonews.com:

MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) – A Washington state man convicted of money laundering in Nicaragua has argued at a hearing appealing his 22-year sentence that police and prosecutors created lies to link him to organized crime.

The lawyer for 35-year-old Jason Puracal of Tacoma says three appellate judges are looking at evidence such as business records that show Puracal has no ties to the companies listed in the formal accusation.

The panel is expected to make a decision in five to 10 days, attorney Fabbrith Gomez told The Associated Press after Monday’s hearing.

Puracal’s family says he was wrongfully convicted two years ago and thrown into one of the most dangerous Central American prisons. Now family members are going to new lengths to try to get him freed.

“He was the kind of brother who would be very protective – but would also challenge you,” Jason’s sister, Janis Puracal, said earlier this month.

Puracal is a University of Washington graduate who served in the Peace Corps in Nicaragua in 2002. He was convicted in 2011 of laundering money through his Re/Max International real estate franchise in San Juan del Sur on Nicaragua’s west coast.

 

Jason Puracal Granted Hearing in Nicaragua…

From the NewYorkTimes.com:

A U.S. citizen serving a 22-year prison sentence in Nicaragua for drug trafficking and money laundering who a United Nations group has said was wrongly convicted has been granted an appeals hearing, his supporters announced on Wednesday.

Jason Puracal, 35, was detained by Nicaraguan authorities in November 2010 and later found guilty by a trial judge along with 10 Nicaraguan co-defendants despite their testimony that they had never met or worked with Puracal, his legal team said. It added that the prosecution’s own witnesses said he was innocent.

Puracal has become a cause célèbre for human rights activists in the United States and around the world, with U.S. lawmakers appealing to Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and a former high-ranking U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official launching a massive petition drive on Puracal’s behalf.

“The 11-month wait for Jason’s hearing is over. The one-year anniversary of his conviction will be August 29, and we really hope to have him home by then. We’re optimistic, and we just ask that people continue to stay engaged,” said Eric Volz, founder of an international crisis resource group called the David House Agency that has been helping push for Puracal’s release.

Puracal’s appeal will come before a three-judge panel on August 16 in a hearing that is expected to last five days, supporters said. A decision could come anywhere from five days to months after the hearing concludes.

Neither prosecutors nor the Nicaraguan government immediately responded to requests for comment.

Supporters have been pushing for the appeal to be heard for nearly a year, and heightened those efforts in the past week after finding out that Puracal, who has been insolitary confinement, was put on suicide watch by Nicaraguan authorities.

Puracal’s sisters Janis and Jaime flew to Nicaragua this week and started knocking on the doors of government officials and visited the appeals court in person, supporters said.

“Within four hours, Jason’s attorney got a phone call being notified of the date that was being set for the hearing. That’s the main reason we believe this is finally moving,” Volz told Reuters.

Volz was himself convicted of murder in the same Nicaraguan courtroom in 2006, eventually serving 14 months of a 30-year sentence in the same La Modelo prison in Tipitapa, just east of the capital Managua. A Nicaraguan appeals court overturned his conviction last year.

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention said in May that Puracal was arbitrarily imprisoned and recommended that he be immediately freed.

A U.S. citizen born in Washington state, Puracal became a resident of Nicaragua after serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2002, and he has married a Nicaraguan woman.

Before his arrest, he was working at a real estate office in the Nicaraguan city of San Juan del Sur, a surfing destination on the Pacific Coast.

Puracal’s supporters said he came under suspicion due to his job as a real estate agent, which gave him control over large sums of money held in escrow for property transactions and drew the attention of Nicaraguan law enforcement authorities.

 

Were the Trayvon Martin Charges Politically Motivated?

The governor-appointed prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, Angela Corey, brought charges of 2nd degree murder against George Zimmerman without a grand jury indictment.  Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz has questioned the foundations for those charges and that action.

The following link is to an article that explores this question.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/19/opinion/nejame-angela-corey/index.html?hpt=hp_bn7

This, once again, raises the issue of “prosecutorial immunity”.  So much power vested in a single individual with no accountability.

Jason Puracal on CNN Last Night…

Watch the video, which includes Anderson Cooper doing a phone interview with Jason here.

Story:

(CNN) — An American being held in a Nicaraguan prison said he is innocent and described his treatment in a “hellhole” in an exclusive phone interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Thursday.

“I don’t know the reason that I’m here,” Jason Puracal said. “That’s been a mystery from the very beginning. What the motives behind the police and the prosecution have been.”

Puracal, a 35-year-old from Washington state, has been behind bars since August 2010, when Nicaraguan authorities raided his real estate office in the coastal tourist city of San Juan del Sur.

CNN profiled Puracal in February.

In November, a Nicaraguan judge found Puracal guilty of money laundering, drug trafficking and organized crime and sentenced the American to 22 years. But a chorus of supporters say that there is no evidence to support the charges and Continue reading